As cool as a cucumber

Captain Cook’s thumb went up in Mumbai. It stayed that way in Kolkata, too.-PTI

Alastair Cook has earned phenomenal respect by stacking up a pile of records that only Kevin Pietersen can come near to matching, writes Ted Corbett.

There’s only one way to describe Alastair Cook, the run-bagging young captain and holder of a whole heap of England records who led his side to glory at Eden Gardens. He’s is a 21 {+s} {+t} century celebrity who appeals to sportsmen and women across the spectrum, who remains calm under pressure and casual whether he is talking to the Prime Minister or a hotel chambermaid. In other words, so my grandchildren assure me: Cookie is cool.

I have spent a third of my life around the England cricket team in their hotels, at their press conferences, watching while they play and in their off-duty moments.

Some of them are easy to meet, respond to a greeting; some are wrapped up in their own problems; some are, maybe, a little bit scared of a writer who began on a tabloid, who has been on every tour for 25 years and who was around when English cricket writers were a lot more ruthless than they are now.

Cook is different. Quiet as a praying monk, content in his own space and the sort of guy you feel does not want to be approached.

Everyone respects him. How could you do anything else when the man scored a century in India and immediately set his place in the side in concrete.

He is never rushed for an answer, he speaks quietly and he scores runs at his own rate.

Cook... growing in stature as skipper.-K.R. DEEPAK

He is, to use another expression from modern youth, very much his own man. He is only 27 — a year older on December 25, Christmas Day — but the selectors, no doubt with a nod from the management team, had no hesitation in naming him vice-captain to Andrew Strauss. There were older players with claims to that position but I never heard a word of complaint.

Of course runs have a lot to do with it. By the end of the third Test he had stacked up a pile of records that only Kevin Pietersen can come near to matching.

He had made his 23 {+r} {+d} Test century, more than anyone else in England colours and one more than Kevin Pietersen, Geoff Boycott, Colin Cowdrey, and Wally Hammond who are among the country’s most famous players.

He passed 7,000 runs and was the youngest to achieve that mark — younger than Sachin Tendulkar, Jacques Kallis, Ricky Ponting, Sunil Gavaskar and Brian Lara for instance.

He made his fifth century in his first five Tests as captain.

If that set of stats does not add up to cricket greatness I don’t know what does.

Cook won admiring remarks from David Gower, Boycott and Graham Gooch, none of whom are given to lavish praise without thinking first. Boycott said: “He is destined to get a lot more centuries. He has a very good technique and he will be on his way towards 40 centuries before he is finished.”

Gooch, who as his coach at Essex and England has overseen the subtle additions to the Cook technique which have brought him to his present pinnacle, added: “This could be the start of his best period in Test cricket.”

Batting Coach Graham Gooch and Cook... the Essex connection.-S. SUBRAMANIUM

His opening partner Nick Compton said: “He is tough, unflappable. He is very clear when he bats. He knows exactly what he wants to do. He gives other players confidence because he is solid and he will not give his wicket away. He is chilled.”

These are remarkable tributes from the men who know him best. My guess is that their task was made easier because they had been expecting these records to fall to Cook.

Cook’s life in the public spotlight began when he was a chorister at St. Paul’s School — which may account for the angelic look he often wears off field but not always when he is facing Dale Steyn or Morne Morkel. He won a musical scholarship to Bedford College where he added skills on the saxophone and piano to his earlier ability to play the clarinet.

Then he had the first of two major pieces of good luck on the cricket field. Aged 14 he played for MCC, who had turned up at Bedford one man short, and scored a century against his school. The word spread round the cricket circuit like wildfire: “this lad can play and he stays cool.” Later he tore the school record book to shreds.

Cook, still junior enough to be a sous chef, I guess was taken on by the Essex Academy which was also lucky since the title of the circuit’s wisest county — which used to be Yorkshire’s — is now resting with Essex where former cricketers Doug Insole, David East, Keith Fletcher, Nasser Hussain and Gooch present a formidable range of knowledge.

The word is that Cook has absorbed all these professors of cricket wisdom can teach which is why he is a growing Test captain even though, like Mike Atherton and Hussain a generation back, he has never learnt his trade the hard way in the day-by-day toil of county battles.

It is a toil too; and a man needs to find a way to relax. Cook does it with a pitchfork in hand or a tractor. He spends his spare time on the farm that belongs to the family of his wife — Alice Hunt when they met — and thinks he finds the physical labour takes his mind off the right place to put mid-off, problems with the media or a tricky batting order.

His other lucky moment came a couple of days before he made his England debut. Marcus Trescothick suddenly decided touring was no longer his priority and flew home. If Trescothick, the tall opening batsman around whom the Ashes success of 2005 was built, had played regularly for England afterwards how much Test cricket would have come the way of the young musician turned batsman?

Not much I suspect since — now 36 — Trescothick looks as good as ever when he leads Somerset.

Instead Cook is England’s new, quiet and multi-talented hero. Cool.